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September 2011

Dear Teacher

By Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts

Pushing Reading Too Soon

Question: Where we live, it has now become the norm that children must know how to read simple stories when they enter kindergarten. Is this expectation a reasonable one?

Answer: Reading is much like walking and talking. Every child will have her own timetable. Of course, early instruction will result in some learning to read. Unfortunately, there are a great number of children who aren’t ready to take this step. Many countries delay reading instruction until children are 7.

Expecting all entering kindergartners to read is not reasonable and sets children up for an early failure in school.

Do Combined Classes Truly Work for Most Students?

Question: With cut-backs in the amount of dollars spent on education in our state, my third grader is in a combined class with second graders.

He was specially selected for this class. It will only have 24 students, while the regular third grade will have 30 students. I’m wondering about how well he’ll be able to succeed in this class.

Answer: The research seems to show that children achieve at about the same levels in combined classes as in single grade classes. This may be because the children, like your son, are often selected for these classes because of their ability to work independently, motivate themselves, behave appropriately and interact agreeably with others.

Some benefits to combined classes may include a greater development of social skills, more cooperation between classmates and enhanced leadership skills for the older students. Younger students can benefit from having older students to model.

Parents are often concerned about the amount of individual time their children will receive from the teacher. This is usually the same as in a single-grade class, as it is based primarily on class size. Furthermore, combined classes are usually smaller.

The success of a combined class depends greatly on the ability of individual teachers to handle this type of class. It is obviously more work with two curriculums to be covered.

The most successful teachers combine the teaching of as many subjects as possible with extension assignments for the upper grade. At this level, it works especially well with language arts and math. Social studies and science are often taught separately except for common themes.

In a well-thought-out program involving the careful selection of students and teachers, combined classes can work well. This is not to say the picture is completely rosy. When teachers instruct in a back-and-forth fashion, each level may not receive sufficient instructional time to learn a subject. If children are not selected carefully, the classes may have students with extremely different academic needs and quite disruptive behavior.

Evaluating a Young Child’s Writing Skills

Question: My fourth-grader’s writing is very sloppy, and she misspells a lot of words. On top of this, her sentences are only three or four words long. If I ask her to write a sentence, she finds it very difficult to put words together. Is she displaying age-level behavior with her writing skills?

Answer: Your daughter’s writing skills should be judged on the basis of what is expected of students at the end of third grade. Her handwriting at that time would be considered legible if she had correct spacing between letters in a word and words in a sentence.

As far as spelling goes, by the end of third grade, most schools expect students to at least spell one-syllable words correctly. She also should be able to spell the words that were on last year’s spelling tests.

Your daughter should also be able to capitalize the first word in a sentence and use appropriate end punctuation of simple sentences. She should be able to vary the length of her sentences.

Parents often evaluate the skill level of their children by using adult standards. Talk to your child’s teacher to find out if your child’s writing meets the school’s expectations for her grade level. You will also find it helpful to look at the writing of other students in the class. If your daughter’s work is not up to grade level, this is the time to discuss how it can be improved.

How Much Sleep Is Enough?

Question: How do I know if my school-age children are getting enough sleep? They always want to stay up past their bedtime.

Answer: All children do not need the same amount of sleep. Most studies show that children between the ages of 6 and 9 require about 10 hours of sleep. Preteens and teens need a little more than nine hours. Teens can be sleep deprived because their body clocks are telling them to stay up late, and schools often start so early.
If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, your children may not be getting enough sleep:
Do they usually fall asleep in the car?
Do you have to get them out of bed every morning?
Do they seem overtired during the day?
Are they falling asleep in class?